People sometimes tell me I have a lot going for myself. When they do, more than often I think – I’m 25, soon to be 26, unmarried with no prospects of being so anytime soon, financially unstable, no career to speak of and have troubled relations with family – what are these people talking about?
Then I think why am I doing this? Should I not be taking the compliment and focusing on the positives they are clearly referencing? I’m also very well educated, have successfully started a new life in America, have great relationships with great people, and have tenaciously been pursuing my career of choice….
Why am I telling myself that this is not ‘good enough’?
To many the idea of ‘a quarter life crisis’ may sound frivolous or even laughable. At 25 you’re young, have limited responsibilities, are at your most attractive and usually most healthy. What do you have to complain about? But regardless of whether these fears are justifiable comparatively, they do exist.So many of my friends suffer or have suffered from these same self doubts and anxieties as me. People who I see as wonderful, successful, attractive, kind people, but who continue to see themselves as ‘not enough.’ They should have a serious partner by now, the should be working somewhere better, they should just be ‘doing more’…..
And this got me to thinking, why should they be, or more correctly why do they believe they should?
Firstly I blame The Renaissance! The Renaissance was undoubtedly a historical turning point that brought many positive changes. It was an age where for the first time individuals began to believe that their world ‘was enough’, and that the purpose of life went beyond survival and preparation for death – which had been the prevailing social paradigm of the middle ages. But with this renewed positivity came a whole new host of anxieties. The idea that an individual could be important and do something of matter in their lifetime that was not predetermined by the position in which they were born, opened up a huge Pandora’s box of opportunity but also expectation. What should they be doing? What if they never do anything of significance? What if they waste the opportunity to ‘do more’? It is these same anxieties that plague many adults in their mid twenties today.
Secondly, and more seriously, I blame the phrase ‘you can have it all.’ Earlier this year the New York Times ran an article on the history of this oft repeated mantra (New York Times, The complicated origins of having it all) Originally a moniker of successful young women the 1980’s, it positively defined a women who was wealthy, had lots of sex, lots of money, and a satisfying job. Despite it’s fairly humble beginnings as book title, this aspirational image of ‘having it all’ has had far wider implications that go beyond women and betray the positive intentions in which it was originally coined.
The pressure to ‘have it all’ has put unrealistic and unfounded expectations on young people. We are told that we need to be successful and to be hitting certain ‘life goals’ earlier and earlier if we are to ‘have it all.’ It has become such a compelling idea that we forget to ask first what is it all? And more importantly do we actually want it? Some may, but many will not. And that’s OK.
So what’s the answer to dealing with this crisis?
A person close to me recently brought up the phrase ‘analysis paralysis’ in a conversation we were having about this very topic – the idea that all this overthinking of what we should be doing to ‘get it all’, actually gets in the way of us getting what we want. If analysis paralysis is the problem then the answer is don’t overthink it!
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care or put serious thought into what we are doing, or that we shouldn’t have lofty goals that will take a lot of work to reach. Everyone wants to make their mark on the world and should purse that desire, but the important thing to remember is that it should be their unique mark, not the mark they are told to leave or aim for.
My advice..find out what YOU love and as long is it makes you happy without hurting others pursue it. Pursuing what you love is a mark of success in itself, not where this pursuit may lead or how how much money or recognition it may get you. If you don’t desire a conventional relationship….have the relationship you want, with who you want. If you do want marriage and kids go for it. If you want to give up a big pay check for a career where you can more fully be you and express yourself…..go for it. If you really want to eat that slice of cake even though your not the perfect ten…eat it! You really want to loose five pounds…get that gym membership.
If we don’t take the time to look into ourselves and really think about what we want it becomes so easy to get lost in the distressing pursuit of searching for what society thinks we should have – it all! And if we do make the conscious effort not to overthink every decision or action, and focus instead on our own desires/passions we can have ALL that we want. Surely that’s ‘good enough.’